Brittney Burns – Staff Writer
Nationally more than six million children come to the attention of child protective services each year according to a Children’s Bureau 2014 report. Four children die every day in the U.S. because of abuse. Although abuse and neglect can have lasting effects, with support, children can move beyond the harm they have suffered to lead healthy lives, and for the last 25 years, KIDS Place has been providing those services in Macon County.
“Providing hope and healing to a community for a quarter of a century is an amazing accomplishment and Macon County Department of Social Services is honored to have been a partner with KIDS Place throughout those 25 years,” said Macon County Department of Social Services Director Patrick Betancourt. “Families are stronger and children more resilient thanks to the dedicated professionalism and passion that comes out of this little stone house.”
In 1990, a group of concerned citizens began meeting to pray for abused children in Macon County. Some of the individuals in that group had experienced firsthand what the system was putting abused children through in its efforts to help. Out of that group came an anonymous donation of $6,000 to be used to provide services for abused children.
Local pediatrician, Dr. Jennifer Brown, who had been part of the group of concerned citizens, was asked to help decide how to serve the most children with the donation. She got other professionals in the community involved and upon advice from the North Carolina Governor’s Crime Commission, the team decided to start a children’s advocacy center. KIDS Place became incorporated in June 1991, found office space and began providing services onsite in January 1992. KIDS Place has been fully functional ever since. That $6,000 donation has helped provide services for thousands of children since 1991. KIDS Place is a charter member of the National Children’s Alliance and is nationally accredited.
Some of the first board members included Jane Kimsey, Mike Neidig, Gary Shields, Monty Beck, Chuck Mallonee, Jennifer Brown, Eleanor Ginsberg, Celia Larson, Gene Ledford, and Teresa Mallonee.
“As a 25-year KIDS Place board member and an educator for 37 years, you realize that resources are the key to helping families and our young people,” said founding board member Gary Shields. “Being a school principal, I saw how KIDS Place has been a salvation in stabilizing homes and lives of young people. Macon County is fortunate in having a children’s advocacy center that has received national accreditation. Our community has been supportive, county and town leaders have supported and understand the importance of KIDS Place.”
A year after KIDS was started, Alisa Ashe was hired as director and she has been guiding the organization ever since.
“I was hired as director in December 1992 and have been here ever since,” said Ashe. “Prior to taking this job I was working as a reporter for The Franklin Press where I worked for eight years. I had become familiar with KIDS Place in that capacity. I have always had a heart for children and welcomed an opportunity to use my skills to give back to the community I love so much.”
Ashe’s work with KIDS Place hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“You can’t talk about the success of KIDS Place without mentioning Alisa Ashe,” said Macon County Commissioner Ronnie Beale. “She works tirelessly on behalf of the organization and is the backbone of the facility. Over the years, I have watched children served by KIDS Place grow up into tremendous adults, and knowing that impact, and seeing it firsthand, is something incredible to experience. Not a lot of people know about KIDS Place or what it does, but if you or your family ever need their services, you will forever be grateful for the work they do.”
KIDS Place is both a place and a process. Services include child forensic interviews conducted by KIDS Place staff who have extensive training and experience. KIDS Place staff have conducted more than 500 forensic interviews. These interviews are done at the request of law enforcement and/or child protective services. Interviews are non-leading and appropriate for the child’s age and development. KIDS Place also provides child medical evaluations at KIDS Place by physicians with specialized training. State-of-the-art equipment helps medical providers diagnose and document findings. KIDS Place works very closely with specialists at UNC-Chapel Hill through the North Carolina Child Medical Evaluation Program. Medical evaluations are done at the request of law enforcement and/or child protective services.
Evidence-based therapy is provided at KIDS Place. This treatment was specifically developed for the treatment of children who have experienced trauma. Therapists are licensed and have had extensive training. KIDS Place therapist Amy Sutton is nationally rostered as a provider of trauma focused cognitive behavioral therapy. When the child and his or her caregiver begin the treatment process, an assessment is completed to measure symptoms of trauma. Another assessment is done at completion of treatment. KIDS Place has consistently seen a 90 percent or more decrease in trauma symptoms in children completing treatment. For children, this means significant decreases in nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety attacks, depression, suicidal thoughts, and risky behaviors. KIDS Place contracts with Meridian Behavioral Health Services to provide this service at KIDS Place.
“It’s great to have a one-stop place to bring our children who need help.” Josh Greenley, Highlands Police Officer and KIDS Place Core Team member. “The resources here for families and the training for professionals is so important.”
KIDS Place also provides victim’s advocacy and case management services for all children referred to KIDS Place. A case manager is assigned to every case to coordinate services and help keep the child and his/her family updated on their case as it proceeds through the system and to make sure that the child has access to all needed services. Court education is provided for children whose cases go to court and KIDS Place staff accompanies children and their families to court to support and help explain the process.
“At the heart of KIDS Place is its multidisciplinary Core Team of professionals,” said Ashe. “KIDS Place coordinates this team that meets at least monthly to review all open cases of abuse. The team is made up of professionals from Child Protective Services, law enforcement, medical professionals, therapists, prosecutors, KIDS Place staff and sometimes others. Working cases as a team is recognized nationally as the gold standard of care.”
KIDS Place is also involved in the community in providing education and awareness about child abuse. The staff can provide programs on recognizing, responding to and reporting child abuse. KIDS Place has an authorized Darkness 2 Light facilitator on staff who can provide this evidence-based child sexual abuse prevention training for adults.
KIDS Place provides services, at no cost to the client, for children ages birth to 18. KIDS Place serves on average 105 unduplicated cases a year.
Over the last 25 years, KIDS Place has continued to serve families in Macon County, filling a void that would otherwise be left up to taxpayers. According to Ashe, the biggest change has been the use of technology.
“I would have to say that the improvements in technology during the last 25 years has been amazing to experience,” said Ashe. “We’ve gone from using paper spreadsheets to computers, 35mm equipped medical equipment to highly sophisticated voice-activated equipment, and shoebox audio tape recorders to high definition cameras and microphones. Another big change was when we were able to stop renting office space and purchase a house 12 years ago. It was so incredible to see how the community stepped up to help pay off the mortgage and pay for renovations in only 2.5 years. Through all these changes, one thing has remained constant … the support from the community for the children and families we serve has been incredible. Thank you Macon County for helping us to care for hurting children.”
The credit for 25 years of success belongs to the community, said Ashe.
“KIDS Place would not have survived without the strong partnerships it has especially with law enforcement, child protective services, the district attorney’s office, the medical community, therapists, and others,” said Ashe. “KIDS Place would not be thriving without the tremendous support of the many, many individuals, groups, churches, civic clubs, families, and foundations that have provided gifts of time, treasures and talents during the last 25 years. Thank you for helping us take care of our kids.”
KIDS Place will be celebrating 25 successful years on Tuesday, October 11 from 5 to 7 p.m. at Motor Company Grill. The public is invited to attend is asked to RSVP at firstname.lastname@example.org.